Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Give the families you serve peace of mind

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of American Funeral Director

Written by Rich Darby, Chief Operating Officer

As a funeral director and co-owner of a burial vault company, I am always looking for better ways to explain the importance of a burial vault. I am always trying to figure out what I can do to help overwhelmed families understand that a burial vault prevents the grave from collapsing and gives them peace of mind.

Making a loved one’s funeral arrangements can be overwhelming. Technology excites me, and I am always the first to own the newest gadget for business. However, this is one time that technology may not provide the best solution. I have come to the conclusion that the most important thing we can do when meeting with a family is to make them as comfortable as possible, starting with a short conversation about what they can expect before entering the selection room. I describe the room and make it clear that they will need to select two things: a casket and a burial vault. If you don’t set the family’s expectations before you enter the room, the burial vault can feel like an unexpected add-on. By spending just a few minutes outside the selection room, you lay the groundwork for your educational conversations ahead.

Then, it’s your time to shine, and this is where technology can make a difference. When all we had were end-cuts and miniature vault samples, funeral directors felt a lot of pressure to come up with the right words for each family. Now with technology, even a newly licensed funeral director can have all the right words.

For example, as you enter the selection room you are given the perfect opportunity to educate the family on the difference between a concrete box and a lined, sealed burial vault. I’m sure you know that it’s important to point out that a concrete box has holes in the bottom to allow for drainage and only prevents the earth from collapsing. I’ll bet you have a great way to explain that a lined, sealed burial vault provides layers of protection by including a polymer lining that works with the concrete to help prevent breakage. How many times have you talked through layers of protection and explained how a strong seal helps protect against outside elements?

But technology takes the pressure off. You can play a video that uses animation to educate the family. A miniature vault sample can only demonstrate so much, but a video from your supplier can show a vault in the ground, what rising groundwater looks like and how a concrete box can break down over time.

While walking through the selection room, you can put an iPad® in the family’s hands and empower them to explore your vault options. Today’s families are used to shopping online and navigating choices on their own. Complementing your vault presentation with interactive technology brings the family into the process and makes them more comfortable.

Speaking of online shopping, have you ever felt overwhelmed by the number of choices? The same applies in the selection room. If you are looking to increase you burial vault sales, I recommend presenting only three vaults: good, better and best. This allows families to more easily compare the vaults available and feel less overwhelmed. As a funeral director, you may understand the difference between a dozen different vault options, but an emotional and grieving family won’t be able to decipher the differences.

Over and over again, I have seen funeral homes limit their number of burial vault options and watch their average vault sale rise. The majority of families will choose your middle option – which should be your target vault and the one that offers the best value.

I encourage you to not be tempted to make an unsealed, unlined concrete box (or grave liner) your entry level unit, even if it’s painted. A concrete box is not the same as a lined, sealed burial vault. When you choose this as your “good” option, you automatically anchor the family to a lower price point, which will lower your average OBC sale.

I know it can be hard to change your selection room presentation, especially if it’s been working for you for many years. I’m not saying you have to replace everything you have with TVs, monitors and iPads. But modern consumers are challenging us to try new things. I encourage you to do your research, push yourself out of your comfort zone and do what’s best for your funeral home. The families you serve will benefit.

Rich Darby is Chief Operating Officer for Trigard and Trigard Memorials. He earned his funeral directors license from Southern Illinois University in 1987, and is licensed in Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. His family owns and operates Trigard, Trigard Memorials, a memorial park and seven funeral homes across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. Email him at richd@trigard.com.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Finding your change barrier

Brodie Krause,
IT Manager
As a teenager, I worked a few summers as a laborer for my dad who was a journeyman plumber/pipefitter. During that time, I learned to install water lines by using solder to sweat the joints together. Fast forward 20 years, and I find myself in the midst of a bathroom remodel. Unfortunately, Dad passed away 7 years ago, and so instead of being able to lean on his knowledge, I could only dig back to the memories of what he taught me. This meant breaking out the blow torch, flux and solder, and spending a ridiculous amount of time-fighting to keep the water out of the lines long enough to make leak-free joints. After burning an entire weekend on the project, and still not being able to turn the water on, I decided to step back and think through what I was doing, and if it was truly the most efficient use of my time. I began to research alternate methods of installing water lines, and my mind was blown at what I found. Pre-soldered fittings, compression fittings, and the Holy Grail, QuickConnect fittings that required no solder, and no tools. I woke up the next morning as soon as the hardware store opened, purchased a couple fittings, and within 5 minutes, the house had water again. My weekend had truly been wasted.

It left me asking, “Why?” As I thought through the answers to that question, I began to identify the barriers that had existed in my mind. Barriers that prevented me from embracing the changes that could have made this project so much more manageable.

First, there was a tradition. I had been taught by my dad, who was a master of his craft, that when you’re installing water lines, you do it with a torch and solder. It was so ingrained, that at the beginning of this project, I never even considered that there might be other methods available, and even once I was open to the idea, I felt like I was dishonoring his memory by thinking that his way wasn’t good enough. But I realized I was honoring him by keeping the Krause family tradition of plumbing alive, even if it looked a little different than when he did it.

Second, I was held back by the illusion of cost. As I began looking at those other options, I balked at what I initially considered to be ridiculous costs for those other types of fittings. The way I’d always done it cost a fraction of what these new methods cost, at least, at the retail counter. When I began to consider the additional cost of my time, which had literally consumed an entire weekend, plus the cost of parts that got damaged when fatigue and frustration led me to make mistakes. Suddenly, those new QuickConnect fittings seemed like a bargain!

Finally, there was the barrier of thinking “That’ll never work.” Surely, it couldn’t be that easy, I told myself. But as I did the research and saw self-proclaimed “old-school” plumbers recommend the new methods, I realized it was worth trying. And, I wasn’t disappointed.

We face the same dilemma in the business world. What practices do you have in place simply because that’s the way you were taught, the way you’ve always done it, or a misunderstanding of what it means to honor your heritage? How afraid are you of investing in a new system, simply because of sticker shock? Do you have a realistic grip on your doubts, or do they control you and prevent you from moving forward?

Something I’ve been taught in the past few years is that if you aren’t moving forward, you’re falling behind, even if it feels safer to just stand still. As you face the need for change in your business, take a step back and identify the things that hold you back, you just might find those mountains to actually be molehills.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/tuesdays.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Is millennial turnover a problem? How can we prevent it?

Ethan Darby,
Director of Business
“I think a trillion dollars of student loans and a massive skills gap are precisely what happens to a society that actively promotes one form of education as the best course for the most people. I think the stigmas and stereotypes that keep so many people from pursuing a truly useful skill, begin with the mistaken belief that a four-year degree is somehow superior to all other forms of learning.” - Mike Rowe

As someone who recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree, I can tell you first-hand that we have severely over-emphasized university learning in our society. Growing up, I can remember relentless pressure coming from role models telling me I had to go to college and get a good degree in order to be successful. While I did learn a lot while I was in school, I find myself only using a very small portion of what I learned. The rest of it was either forgotten or doesn’t apply to what I’m doing.

I remember hearing a story recently about a large bridge that was to be built in Alabama. The planning, budgeting, and material collection was all done. They were only missing one thing – people to physically build the bridge. Due to a lack of welders, the project was put off, and has no estimated completion date as far as I know. This is a scary thing to me. It also blows my mind that I graduated with so many people with great degrees and high I.Q.’s that are now left scrambling to find even a low-level job when there are job shortages all over the place in the technical field. And with Baby Boomers starting to retire, this shortage is only getting larger. 

Employee turnover seems to be a consistent problem amongst our dealer network and pretty much any type of manufacturing company I come across. The largest amount of turnover seems to be occurring in that age group of 23-30-year-olds. Why is that? I think the first reason is that there are simply less of us. We bought into the idea of getting a four-year degree, so we went and racked up crippling student loan debt only to get a job totally unrelated to our degree. The pool of younger people with technical knowledge is small and only getting smaller. If you can get your hands on a millennial with some technical knowledge and potential, how do you retain that individual?

Create Excitement for Employees
One thing I have personally tried to help implement within our own company is transparency. If you trust your employees, share things about your business with them. If they don’t know which way you are steering the ship, how can they possibly help you miss the iceberg? 

Also, let them know what opportunities lie ahead. They should know what you value as an employer- what can they do to add value to themselves? And if they do add value, what types of rewards are available? 

Millennials are actively known as the social media generation. We are used to having a voice, and we also want one in the workplace. We have great ideas that give us a unique perspective on things. Listen to us, and we will reward you in more ways than one. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are a few bad eggs in every generation, but I think Millennials get a bad rap. Give us a shot, and I promise you it will be worth your while.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/tuesdays.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Insight from the next generation

Jason Murphy,
Director of Family Services,
Sunset Memorial Park
As the next generation begins to become more involved in the funeral industry and move up into manager and supervisory roles, some professionals who have been in the industry for many years question whether they are ready to take on the responsibility. A majority of the youngsters coming into our profession are what society likes to call a “millennial” and in my opinion, the “millennial generation” often times gets a bad rap.

If you consider my age, I would be considered a millennial. And, I have often times heard the terms lazy, entitled, stubborn and even selfish used for professionals my age. But, not everyone in our generation qualifies. Over the past several years being a younger manager, I have found that how you are viewed by others is determined by your actions and your attitude.

One obstacle millennials face in any industry is being respected by their peers, especially when they have been involved in this industry for many more years. As a millennial, I know how hard it is to earn the respect of those you work with, especially if you are their supervisor. In my experience, the key to having a healthy relationship with your staff is to work hard for them.

What do I mean?

Put your employees best interest before your own. Maybe that means covering shifts for evenings, weekends or holidays. It could mean something simple, like returning a phone call to an angry customer, or simply providing positive reinforcement and feedback when needed. Anything you can do to cause less stress for them will only increase your chances of being accepted and respected as their supervisor.

Be available and open for conversation. Have face to face interaction with your staff as much as possible. There is so much more value and meaning in conversation versus hiding real issues in an email or text. People will respond quicker and with a better attitude when issues are confronted head on and not left to fester. I know all too well that millennials love to use technology, but you shouldn’t rely on technology to do the dirty work for you.

Have an open mind. One of the biggest worries of a millennial is that we are not pulling our own weight.  It is extremely important that our mentors and individuals we work with give us the opportunity to prove ourselves before being lumped into the “entitled” group of our generation. So, please keep an open mind and remember that everyone at some point was where we are in their workplace. Pick us up when we stumble, but don’t give up on us.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/tuesdays.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Summertime living is not easy

Scott Darby,
Media Manager,
Certified Funeral Celebrant
Camino del Sol Funeral Chapel
and Cremation Center
Memorial Day weekend has, for a long time, been considered the beginning of summer. I used to live in New York City and it was understood that summer business hours were in effect from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. The work week was reduced to four days because Friday became one’s “travel to our weekend house” day. By mid-summer, as the temperature rose, leaving work early on Wednesday or Thursday to catch the "jetty" to the Hamptons or Fire Island was expected.

For those of us who work in the funeral industry, we don’t get that luxury.

While people are leaving work early on Thursday, you’re working to ensure the families you serve are cared for during one of the hardest times of their lives. While most people are going to barbecues and pool parties, you are working tirelessly through the summer whether it be at the funeral home or in the hot sun hauling concrete burial vaults or digging graves.

Author and philosopher Sam Keen says, “Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” Well, I’m writing today to recognize those of you out there working despite the urge to leave work early because the families we serve are more important. You are the ones who give up a piece of your weekend to make sure a grieving spouse gets the closure he/she needs. At Trigard, we want you to know that we recognize and respect your hard work and we are proud to serve you.

Now, don’t forget to use lots of sunscreen, keep drinking water and have an awesome summer season!

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/tuesdays.